It has been an extraordinary week for me to witness the passing of my beautiful grandmother. She was a rock in my life, my dear friend and teacher. It was such an honour to be by her side and hopefully be able to give something back in her hour of need.
Just short of 100 (I think I may have some good genes), she went downhill very rapidly and unexpectedly as we were about to celebrate this milestone. However her quality of life had been deteriorating for some time, and I know although it brings much sadness for the ones that are left behind, this was the best thing for her.
One of the hardest things for me to live in Europe was to be away from her during her last years, and something that was a constant struggle for me to deal with emotionally. I know for a fact though with the type of person she was, that she would want to me to be living my life to the fullest even if it meant we did not see each other the way we would hope to.
My Granna, as I called her, had the most beautiful spirit for life, constantly smiling and almost effortlessly joyful, she had a huge appreciation and gratefulness for the life she had. When she was 64 she told me that if she had to die tomorrow she had everything she could have ever wished for and would be happy to go - a wonderful husband that adored her (and brought her breakfast in bed EVERY morning), 3 beautiful children and then 6 grandchildren. In their early 60's my grandparents travelled the globe for a year visiting everywhere from Russia, to China, South America and Europe, she had her precious loved home with a magnificent garden that she tended every day, and her beloved pets. The funny thing was she still had another 35 years to go from that point. Almost another whole lifetime in some ways.
When my grandfather passed she still kept up her indomitable spirit despite the fact that I know that it made her incredibly sad. A tear would come to her eye when she would talk of him every time. Even through her blinding smile.
Her last years were spent in a nursing home and we were lucky that the staff and residents adored her, she just had this way about her that lit up any room. They looked after her so well, including my dear mum who would make the effort to travel out every week to be with her.
I have never been in a room with someone who was dying or dead. I am sorry if the wording isn't pretty but it is something we all have to face at sometime in our lives. It is the one guarantee we all have. It is difficult and messy, with moments of indignity. However I choose to remember the specialness of it.
I woke to constant missed calls from my mother at around 6am last Friday morning. Within a couple of hours I had upended my much anticipated European travel that I was about to embark on to return to Melbourne and made it back within 24 hours, the whole time dreading she wouldn't make it. Consistently talking to her in my mind to hang on till I got there, deep down I knew she would, we talk of soul mates in this world and I believe she was one of mine.
Journeying direct to the home, her face lit up like a little Christmas tree the moment she saw me and she drew me to her for a hug with her minimal strength. I knew she was waiting. I chose to sleep on the floor of the home, sheerly to be with her and not leave her side. It reminded me of the many times we would sleep beside each other in her room when I was little. The nurses brought my aunt and I tea and toast in the morning, and I felt like I had my final breakfast with her, just like we used to.
There were many difficult moments in those hours before she passed, times she was in pain, and times we thought she was just about to go but she hung on in there. Having lung issues she was told when she was a little girl that she would never make it past childhood. She had been used to fighting for her health constantly during her life, however look how long she lasted, and I believe in those last hours her natural instinct was still to battle on, even though it was time to go.
I would whisper to her that her darling Malcolm was waiting for her and he was wondering what was taking her so long! I really do believe the dying can hear our words and I loved how the staff and doctors would talk to her like she was completely conscious as per normal. I told her many things during this time about where my life was going and know that she would be so happy for me.
The moment she passed was peaceful. I wondered sometimes how strange it must be to be surrounded by people staring at you during your final moments, sometimes with up to ten family in the room and all focused on this precious woman. However when she left us my aunt was sleeping peacefully but holding her hand, my mum was doing the crossword, and I had been responding to a few messages. I put everything down and reached over and touched her shoulder. She was gone. My grief was unimaginable and instant. The transition so quick from life to death, and then we sat with her for sometime.
It wasn't as scary as I had imagined seeing a person who had passed. I had avoided it at my father and grandfather's funerals. However I chose to sit and hold her hand for a very long time afterwards.
There is a beauty in death that is the art of life. It was an honour to be with someone at their passing, and I encourage anyone who may be apprehensive about this experience to not be hesitant about being there. We should all be so lucky to be loved like she was that she had so many people around at that moment.
I am now blessed to wear her engagement ring that she promised me when I was tiny, I never wanted to have this beautiful piece of jewellery because it would mean I no longer had her. However now it is on my hand there doesn't feel like a time I have not worn it, and it feels natural and right. Every time I look at it I will try to remember how joyful her heart was and do my best to live with the same spirit for life.
I have been consistently reminded since she has gone of the cycle of life. Three of my friends have just given birth to much wanted and tried for children in the same week. And I have three other friends who have just had the news they are expecting. It is the way of the world and the way it is meant to be.
So although difficult, I celebrate her life and let her go. To a place I believe exists beyond this realm and where I don't say goodbye, rather so long until we meet again.